China Poblano (Las Vegas)

•April 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In a bit of a morning haze in Vegas (are there any others?) I was searching for food. The staff at the Cosmo told me to try Egg Slut. As I walked up I saw a line snaking around the corner and what looked to be an at least 2 hour wait. I needed to eat now so I stumbled upon China Poblano. And boy, am I glad I did.

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I was perusing the menu, which was filled with tons of delicious-sounding food, but it came to the point where I just told the staff, “feed me!”. The Chef’s menu was at hand. First up, Tuna ceviche – ahi tuna tossed with soy dressing, toasted pecans, cilantro, red onions and Fresno chiles, topped with crispy amaranth.

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It had thick chunks of fresh tuna cut into nice thick cubes like Hawaiian poke. The soy gave it a bit of an Asian flair but the Fresno chiles gave it a nice kick that was balanced by the creaminess of the avocado and light greens. The crispy amaranth was a nice touch that gave it a nice textured crunch. A+ in my mind! It set the bar high for what was to come.  Next, the Sui mai – juicy pork, shrimp topped with gold leaf.

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This thing was tiny but a flavor bomb! Juicy pork, soft chewy noodle wrapper, nicely spiced with Asian spices and a gold leaf just for “fancy-ness”. Oh Vegas Cosmo… Next, the Palmitos salad – fresh Hawaiian palm hearts, grapefruit, orange, radish and avocado, tamarind dressing.

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All I have to say is WOW (and this is coming from someone who is generally averse to salad)! Fresh, cool, refreshing, but again, a small hint of spice which gave it a nice little kick! Cool and refreshing… and BAM! Heat! I love spicy food so this works really well for me. Again, mix in the big chunks of avocado, it’s creaminess is the right stuff to balance out this dish. Next, the fried wonton – shrimp, pork and sesame sauce.

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Crispy shell, very juicy meat. Well above average wonton. The hoisin and sesame was a nice touch to add some more complex flavors. Overall, a nice bite in the meal and nice after a super fresh salad (they time this stuff right!). Shenyang squash salad – butternut squash, pickled wood ear, daikon, sesame dressing.

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I was expecting “meh” from butternut squash. But Wow! This exceeded my expectations. The pickled flavors of the veg, a small hint of spice, and a nice crunch from the Daikon all melded into a delicious dish. This was actually a nice side dish to all the other dishes in the meal as I picked at it while eating some of the heavier dishes like the Shrimp mojo – gulf shrimp sauteed in with dried chiles, shallots, sweet black garlic and finished with roasted poblano “rajas”.

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This shrimp was excellent! Juicy, sweet, however the natural flavor of the shrimp, which becomes a background taste, is masked by the delicious garlic, chile and poblano flavors, which are dominant and delicious. The next dim sum dish, When Pigs Fly – steamed bun with Chinese barbecue pork.

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I watched a single employee through me whole meal who only stuffed these buns. Juicy, flavorful, and awesome are the good points. Small and …those would be the only complaints. At this point, I’m getting really full, but next comes out the Green beans with garlic and almonds.

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Awesome veg dish! Enough said. Simple and tasty. Next a signature dish, Twenty vegetable fried rice – fried rice with pea shoots and twenty seasonal vegetables including mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, onions, microgreens, etc.

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This may be some of the best fried rice I’ve had. So much veg and with different flavors. The way I’ve always viewed fried rice was that you throw in leftovers and just mix it up. Here, apparently their leftovers are amazing tasty vegetables. The last non-dessert dish was Bistec con mole amarillo y hongos – grilled hanger steak with Oaxacan mole with a blend of roasted mushrooms.

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The mole made this dish, interesting. The meat was cooked perfectly and it was juicy and lovely, The mushrooms are always a good compliment to steak. The mole, that’s what made this different. Some would like it for the complexity, some would not like it for it’s weirdness. I can understand both. But needless to say, good beef! There were two desserts, at which point my stomach was about to burst. The first was, Creamy sticky mango pudding topped with crunchy puffed rice.

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Lovely creamy taste with sweetness from the mango combined with the crunchy texture of the crunchy puffed rice. A perfect light dessert. They also brought a Churros filled with cream in hot chocolate sauce.

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Fresh donut, filled with fresh creme, and dipped in a hot chocolate sauce….can you really go wrong?

China Poblano in Vegas is awesome! They have a drink menu as well with specialty drinks but given my condition at the time, probably not the best idea. But to get the Chef’s menu, GOLDEN!

http://www.chinapoblano.com/

Ja Bistro

•April 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago I found myself in Vancouver and there was a place in Yale town that served blow torched sushi. It was a beautiful mix of fresh fish, miso sauce, spices and jalapeños.  It was like a flavor bomb in my mouth and I thought to myself, why don’t we have this in Toronto? A year or so later, I heard about Ja Bistro. Not only do they serve these flavor bombs, they also serve awesome sushi. First up was the Sashimi platter.

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The fish is super fresh. My favorite was actually the scallop, which I’ve never had in raw form before but it really works. The cuts are thick, the texture is soft and fatty (by fish standards), and it’s cool and refreshing. One of the meal highlights was the lobster miso soup.

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The miso soup is above average for miso soup but throwing in a lobster claw is a stroke of genius. This unexpected mix works. The rich buttery lobster compliments the warm comforting soup. Next, sushi platters, both the regular and premium.

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Like the sashimi, the fish is fresh, refreshing, with perfect texture and perfect taste. This is some of the best sushi I’ve had in the city. The beef was also amazing. We tried some of the cooked food like the tori  Nanban (battered chicken).

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The chicken was juicy and delicious. The batter was just ok. Probably sat around for a bit since it wasn’t as crunchy as I would have hoped but what can you do. The ika calamari however came out piping hot and crunchy.

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It’s a little rubbery but overall the flavors were delicious. Now the show stopper, the aburi sushi (salmon and saba).

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The flavors are great. There is a beautiful complexity to this. Fresh fish, warm on the top but cool underneath. Rich and savoury sauce with a bite of spice. It’s awesome! My favorite was the Ja bistroll.

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Like the aburi equivalent, it’s rich, savoury and complimented by fresh fish. There is a bit of creaminess to this too which rounds out the whole thing. The R/F (rice to fish) ratio, as my friend calls is, is better for the roll as well compared to the sushi. Overall, it was a fantastic meal. It’s a little on the pricey side so not an everyday type of indulgence, but for special occasions, definitely worth the visit.

http://www.jabistro.com/

 

Oddseoul

•April 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Toronto is a beautiful mosaic of different cultures. Most major cities seems to have a Chinatown, but I can only think of a few that can boast having a little Italy, little Portugal, little India, Koreatown, Greektown (the Danforth), little Poland (Roncey), and more recently little Tokyo (Bay and Dundas). There are also many other cultures mixed in throughout the city. The diversity of art, music, and food is one of the reasons I love this city. The other fringe benefit of having these cultures intertwined is fusion. I love fusion food! It takes the best of certain types of cuisine and mixes it with the best parts of another. One of the best examples of this is Oddseoul, started by two Korean brothers who grew up in Philadelphia. The Han brothers have managed to find that perfect blend of Korean and American flavors.

First up, Buffalo fried tofu. The warm, soft and silky tofu is encased in crunchy breading and is tossed in a light, buttery Buffalo sauce. It’s garnished with asian accents like sesame seeds, pickled radish, and scallions, and accompanied by a cool, creamy ranch sauce.

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I love Philly cheesesteaks and I love bulgogi. Oddseoul’s bulgogi cheesesteak is a winner and “must-try”. This picture probably isn’t the best but trust me when I say it’s packed with flavor. The beef is marinated in that bulgogi marinade and comes out bursting with flavors. The fried onions, American cheese, grainy mustard and mayo give it a Big Mac-like American classic flavor. The addition of Kimchi gives it a bite that rounds out the flavor bomb. All of this, on bahn mi bread. Perfection!

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O.S. Korean fried chicken wings. Now I love Korean fried chicken (the better “KFC”)! These wings come out piping hot (which in the world of deep fried food I find is one of the most important factors). I call it Korean red sauce but my Korean friend tells me it’s called gochujang. This is a slightly less spicy version than most spicy KFC incarnations in the city. If you like your spice, eat it with the garnish of jalapeños. If it’s too hot, you can cool down with the side of pickled veg. Once you move past the sauce and the crispy outer layer, you get into the juicy chicken meat. Crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. This is always a formula for success in my books. This is once of those instances where I find myself licking the plate after it’s all gone.

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Next is the smoked pork belly mandoo. Like the above, crispy on the outside with juicy, meaty pork belly on the inside. The contrast is nice with the wings above. The wings have more sauce (which is delicious) and is “heavier”. The thin wrap has a nice crunch and the fatty pork belly is literally bursting with flavor (the fat juice coming off the pork belly).

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Next are the tempura prawns. Nice breading, good crunch, and nice plump shrimp. The creamy spicy mayo is excellent. There are a lot of places that serve this dish though. I would say this is above average but if you can only order a limited number of fried items, I would go with the wings or the dumplings above.

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One of the “must-try” dishes is the “Loosey”. It’s basically a burger served on slices of white bread. This simplification does not give it justice. First off, the beef. High quality, perfectly seared to lock in the flavor, juicy and perfectly seasoned. The cheese, shredded lettuce, ketchup and mayo (again reminding me of Big Mac sauce) are burger classics and all of this is sandwiched between two slices of white bread, speckled with sesame seeds, buttered and lightly toasted. This may be one of my favorite burgers in the city.

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They serve large dishes meant for sharing. Pork neck or chicken saams, kimchi and pork belly rice bowls. On this particular night we ordered beef short rib wraps. The beef is cooked to a perfect medium rare, the crunch of fried onions and fresh scallions add texture and a hint of coolness that cuts through the richness. The sauce is also rich and tasty without taking away from the flavor of the beef.

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The special of the night was a glass noodle dish cooked in soy and seasoned with more spices that my palate could differentiate. It was delicious! I thought it would be a little salty but this isn’t the case at all. Like all the dishes at Oddseoul its perfectly balanced, packed with flavor and fun to share.

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Aside from the food, this is a fun spot hang out and have a few drinks. The house cocktails are creative and delicious. Some are pretty potent too. They also have a great selection of tall boys for great prices. On the weekends, the narrow room is packed with patrons, the drinks are flowing, the music is blaring, and the kitchen is pumping out so wicked awesome food.

Oddseoul

90 Ossington Ave.

Biscuit B*tch (Seattle)

•March 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So in the spirit of March Madness and my trip to Seattle to visit my Bulldog (Gonzaga grad student) brother, we also tried a breakfast place called Biscuit B*tch. It’s a small shop that always seems to be lined up at least until the afternoon which is when I assume they run out of food. And they run out of food for a good reasons. It is awesome! We managed to make it there by mid-morning breakfast (10am-ish) and it was already lined up. We ordered the cheese’n’pork b*tch (see below):

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It’s a biscuit with gravy, cheese, and bacon. Obviously it was was amazing! And these biscuits….oh my! Soak up all that goodness and take a nap.

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Next was the Smokin’ Hot B*tch. Biscuit, gravy, cheese, Louisiana sausage, and jalapeños. Wonderful kick and all around awesome! And again, that gravy just soaks up more and more goodness. If you like heat, this is your breakfast!

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Lastly we tried the B*tchwhich with bacon. A by far above average breakfast sandwich with thick bacon and a delicious biscuit but if you are going to go through the effort of waiting in line, get one of the biscuit combos and not a sandwich.

http://biscuitbitch.com/

Pike Place Chowder (Seattle)

•March 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So my brother is currently going to school at Gonzaga. Needless to say, this year, being in the final four is exciting for everyone on the west coast. I visited my brother last year and told him to meet me in Seattle because I hear the food is pretty good there. The original Starbucks, the fish market, anything touristy around the space needle. It had to be primed for tasty dishes. What I learned was that they had phenomenal seafood soup. Possibly the best. Pike Place Chowder! Always a line (which seems ridiculous at the time but it moves quick) and worth the wait.

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I was lucky enough to go with a group of people so in one sitting we got to try the crab roll, seafood bisque, market chowder, New England clam chowder.

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The crab, legendary. Sweet, nice chew. Complimented by a soft roll and tangy mayo. The soups…oh so good. The seafood bisque had a nice tomatoey flavor but was loaded with tons of seafood. A little fishy  (could barely tell) but so rich and all the other seafood made it hearty and delicious. The star was the New England clam chowder. Winner of multiple awards for good reason. Rich, creamy, perfectly spiced, oh so good. No fishy seafood taste and just all around goodness. If you are making your way to the west coast, catch a Bulldogs game and eat this chowder. It. Is. Glorious!

http://www.pikeplacechowder.com/

 

Banh Mi Boys

•March 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago a small and narrow sandwich shop opened up at Queen and Spadina.  At first I thought, “how can this compete with the dirt cheap bahn mi sandwiches all along Spadina?”  Then I ate the food and have never second guessed them since.  I still remember my first experience, walking down the street with one of the tacos in hand.  I had to stop and sit down on the sidewalk because my knees grew weak as the flavors burst in my mouth.  HOLY FOODGASMIC BATMAN!  This is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!  They’ve since opened a location and Yonge and Gerrard and I’ve been a regular ever since. When friends visit from out of town, this is one of the places I always send them to.

Below is the five spice pork belly steam bao.

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The bun is soft and chewy.  Nice texture very reminiscent of the chinese buns you get at dim sum but bigger.  The veggies are crisp and packed with pickled flavour.  The meat.. tender, fatty and packs a lot of great flavour from the five spice seasoning.  Below is the Kalbi beef taco.

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This was the original taco that brought me to my knees.  The tortilla holds together well considering it’s packed with stuff.  As you eat it, the sauces shoot down your hand so remember to grab napkins….or you can do what I do and just lick it all up. The beef is tender and full of Korean kalbi marinade flavor.  Again the veggies are crunchy and full of pickled goodness.  The heat is ever so perfect.  The flavorful kind of heat and not simply a burning heat.  Below is the fried chicken steamed bao.

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I love fried chicken so this concoction just makes me happy.  Crisp, juicy fried chicken with all the goodies included in the other options.  The true winner and must try though, partially for uniqueness but mainly for flavor, are the Kimchi fries.

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Kimchi, mayo, green onions, pulled pork, perfectly crisped fries….it sounds weird but it is truly a culinary work of art.

Below is the beef cheek bao.  The beef is tender and absorbs a lot of the sauce.

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The bahn mi itself is on a lightly toasted french bun, crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside.  Below is the chicken.  Small morsels of marinated chicken packed with flavor.

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Below is the squid taco.  The squid is a little rubbery and it doesn’t travel too well but fresh off the fryer, it’s as good as any fried calamari.

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Below is the Kalbi beef bahn mi.  Like the taco incarnation of the Kalbi beef, it carries the same punch-you-in-the-face flavor.

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This place is a real gem and probably one the best value meals in the whole city.  How to mix a meal of the baos, tacos and sandwiches is a common debate amongst my friends and co-workers.  To date, we have never come across a bad combination, it’s all just varying degrees of awesome.

http://www.banhmiboys.com

The Ossington Pho-Down!

•March 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In search of Toronto’s best Pho, I’ve often come across the same debate, Golden Turtle versus Pho Tien Thanh. Now over the years I’ve eaten my way through many places all over town including Chinatown (Pho Hung, Pho Pasteur, etc.) and even have travelled uptown to Markham and North York in search of the best noodle soup. People from uptown argue that the asian food up North doesn’t even compare to what you can get further south towards the lake and into downtown. Over the past year, I’ve eaten at a lot of these uptown asian places and will concede that when it comes to most asian food, they have us downtowners beat. But not when it comes to Pho! I’m not sure if it’s the local competition that drove these two places to such dominance, but on the little strip of Ossington between Queen and Dundas, two little shops serve the best bowls of Pho I’ve had in my life.

I first heard about Golden Turtle several years ago. A colleague of mine told me he thought they had the best Pho in the city. My following Google search was my first glimpse into this heated debate. I found a flurry of blogs, reviews, and message boards with random strangers strongly expressing their opinion of one over the other. Today I decided it was time to try both, back to back, and make a decision for myself. I first went to Golden Turtle and ordered the rare beef pho and an order of spring rolls. I don’t know why, but Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto crush it at deep frying spring rolls.

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The spring rolls came out piping hot. I find with anything deep fried, freshness is key but one must be wary of burning one’s tongue. These spring rolls were on the thicker side, a little less than an inch in diameter. The filling was juicy, meaty and delicious. Excellent crunch but wasn’t too greasy. Now for the main event, the pho.

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The broth had a lot of flavor. A lot of the places in the city have really bland broth which make you want to add a lot of hoisin and sriracha. This is not the case here. It stands on its own. I like a little heat and sweetness so I added a little after a few bites of the pure stuff. The broth is a little oily but worth it for the flavor pickup.The meat was nice and lean. I find most places use really cheap beef and can be gristly. No gristle here, just chewy tender beef. It came out nice and rare but quickly cooked through in the hot broth. The noodles, perfectly cooked. Nice and chewy and they absorbed a lot of the broth flavor.

A short walk south you will find Pho Tien Thanh. Every time I walk into this place, no matter what time of day, it’s packed. The place is warm (literally) and smells of delicious pho. It definitely feels like more of a dive compared to Golden Turtle which is cleaner with nicer decor. But I don’t really care about decor, I care about taste. First up, the spring rolls.

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These are skinnier than the Golden Turtle counterpart, about half an inch in diameter, however they are longer. On a per bite basis, you get less filling but more crunch. I feel like the filling was a little more flavorful and juicy. The spring roll itself was also greasier. Both are delicious. I guess the choice will depend on whether you like more filling or more crunch and what your greasiness tolerance is like. Now the pho.

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The broth is less oily and just a flavorful. It almost tastes, cleaner. The beef also came out nice and rare. It was chewy and delicious but I thought the quality of the beef was a little lower than Golden Turtle. Some gristle and fattier chunks but still better than anywhere else in the city. The noodles were also perfectly cooked to a lovely chewy texture. I thought the noodles didn’t absorb the broth as much. To get around this, you just eat it in a spoon with the broth.

Both bowls are delicious in their own right. When you are comparing the best of the best, it’s splitting hairs and really is just a matter of preference or maybe even your mood that day. It’s like comparing the top burgers or top steaks or the best BBQ. It’s a matter of personal taste and preference. Somedays, I’ll want cleaner broth and crunchy spring rolls, in which case I’ll find myself at Pho Tien Thanh. Other days, I may want leaner beef and nice porky spring roll filing, in which case I’ll find myself at Golden Turtle. I think the patrons can all agree on one thing though, if you love pho, Ossington is the place to be.

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http://www.thegoldenturtle.ca/

http://www.phenu.com/PhoTienThanh